Junior featherweight Elijah Pierce has made no secret of his desire to fight Naoya Inoue.

But Pierce (18-2, 15 KOs) is first set to fight Arthur Villanueva, on March 29 in Atlanta, in an Overtime Boxing event being broadcast by DAZN.

Although Villanueva (35-4-1, 20 KOs) has lost only to top contenders and world champions in Luis Nery, Nordine Oubaali, Zolani Tete and McJoe Arroyo, Pierce is already thinking about the statement a win would make – and how it might push him a step closer to a much bigger fight.

Pierce envisions a matchup with Inoue, a two-division undisputed champion – including junior featherweight – in his near future.

“First let me say, he is a great fighter,” Pierce said of Inoue. “He hasn’t faced nobody like me. I have researched all of his opponents – I have kind of looked at his journey. He hasn’t fought no one with my caliber of footwork, power and athleticism. Stephen Fulton would be the closest to that, but Stephen Fulton doesn’t have power.”

Pierce says a fight with Inoue, who is next scheduled to face Nery on May 6 in Japan, checks a number of boxes on his bucket list.

“I honestly feel I will beat the shit out of Inoue,” Pierce said. “I am the biggest 122-pounder in the world. I am [5-foot-9], and I have power just like him.”

Pierce loves the idea of traveling to Japan.

“The funny thing is, Japan is the country I want to visit the most,” Pierce said. “I have always wanted to visit Japan my whole life, so I think it is going to be a full-circle moment.”

Pierce, who has sparred Gervonta “Tank” Davis, Joseph Diaz and Gary Russell Jr., believes he is ready for the top of the division. What he might lack in notoriety, he makes up for in confidence. Pierce, who splits his time between Atlanta and his native Oklahoma, wants to be known far and wide by the boxing community. 

In 2018, Pierce fought Giovanni Cabrera at junior lightweight – coming in at 127¾ pounds – and lost. He went all 10 rounds but lost a unanimous decision. Pierce has fought as heavy as lightweight, contributing to his belief that he would be the biggest fighter Inoue has faced.

“He had trouble with an old-ass [Nonito] Donaire,” he said. “We can’t forget that fact as well.”